5 Ideas to Help Your Kids be Smarter Than Their Smartphone

Posted on: 12/9/14 5:45 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Today's-TeensLast night my wife and I saw a friend at a Christmas party who I hadn’t seen in months… at least face-to-face. But immediately I complimented her on her Thanksgiving decorations and asked how her daughter’s b-day party was last weekend… as if we had just talked days before.


Instagram. I follow her on Instagram.

Americans have plenty of complaints about cell phones and the Internet. I regularly encounter parents who just want to smash their kids’ phones. But let’s not be too quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater Continue reading “5 Ideas to Help Your Kids be Smarter Than Their Smartphone” »

Shy, Teased, Isolated…Teen Killer?

Posted on: 04/10/14 8:32 AM | by Jonathan McKee


It’s the one question no one can really answer at this moment describing the rampage 16-year-old Alex Hribal embarked on yesterday at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, PA. One can only speculate.

His attorney is saying he is just a normal kid. Most are saying he was “shy”, “quiet” and “small.” Some are already using words like “bullied” and “teased.” Like Alex’s classmate who described the teasing as “relentless” at times.

“They just said things. They’d ride him and ride him, and today was the day that he snapped.”

I felt a unique twinge in my spine when I read that quote… because I remember that feeling. I know that emotional state well, not from studying youth culture, or writing and speaking about bullying, but from hearing the jeers and pokes from my classmates in my early teen years Continue reading “Shy, Teased, Isolated…Teen Killer?” »

Keeping Social Media Safe

Posted on: 03/24/14 3:45 AM | by Jonathan McKee

phone-safety-children“Should I allow my 13-year-old to use Twitter?”

It happens after every parent workshop I teach. Parents line up with specific questions.

“Is Instagram bad?

Should I let my teenager have her phone in her room at night?

“Should I be worried if I found my teenager using Omegle?”

“All my daughter’s friends are on Ask.fm and she wants to be too. Should I let her?”

(By the way, I know I’ll get comments asking, so my answers to those questions would be: no, no, yes, and no. I let my own teenage daughters have multiple social networking sites, but Omegle and Ask.fm both are venues where anonymous people can chat with little to no accountability, and that’s never a good situation. Here’s an article with more specific details about individual apps.)

The questions always vary, but they all root from the same question:

“Is social media safe?”

This is a pretty broad question. It’s like asking Continue reading “Keeping Social Media Safe” »

Young People and Selfies

Posted on: 03/12/14 3:30 AM | by Jonathan McKee


“Aren’t we cute?”

Within seconds the selfie pic is posted to Instagram, and Tweeted to her 326 followers. Just another emblematic snapshot from the life of today’s teen.

Five years ago we didn’t even know the word “selfie.” Fast forward to the end of 2013 and it was declared “word of the year.”

What’s the fascination teens have with selfies? Does this desire to snap pics in everyday life make them narcissistic?

When most people hear “selfie,” they probably think of a Continue reading “Young People and Selfies” »

A Heart for the Unnoticed

Posted on: 11/20/13 10:43 AM | by Jonathan McKee

The-Way-Way-BackDo you notice that kid who seems to disappear under the radar?

In the shadow of a tragic teen suicide, and a weekend training youth workers to notice and connect with teenagers, I was pleasantly surprised by a film that, interestingly enough, has also slipped under the radar. This movie tugged at my heart for young people in a unique way and is no doubt the best film I’ve seen in literally years now.

The 2013 gem of a film is titled The Way Way Back, with Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and Toni Collette, to name a few. This brilliantly written story introduces an awkwardly shy 14-year-old teen named Duncan whose single mom (Collette) has started dating an unfortunate choice in a boyfriend (Carell). The mismatched bunch go on summer vacation to a beach cabin where Duncan tries his best to escape each day. Duncan finds community in an unlikely place, the Water Wiz Water Park managed by Owen, a free spirited man who befriends Duncan.

This film captured the essence of parenting and youth ministry, specifically three elements Continue reading “A Heart for the Unnoticed” »

R.I.P. baby sister

Posted on: 11/18/13 3:01 AM | by Jonathan McKee

type“I just love being straight up ignored when ever I need you.”

It was the last thing she posted on her Facebook page. Then she went to her high school the next day and hung herself in the school bathroom.

That was last Friday.

Saturday, the day after this tragic suicide, I spoke at an event in the town where this occurred. Many of the youth workers knew kids from the school; they showed me this young lady’s Facebook page.

Some of the posts contained ‘text speak’ like “lawl sike” (basically saying, “just kidding”). But was she kidding? Continue reading “R.I.P. baby sister” »

Sticks and Stones Contest

Posted on: 03/4/13 11:14 AM | by Jonathan McKee

It’s amazing how many voices are rising out of the playgrounds, past and present, to express the perspective of one who’s been bullied.

My dad, myself, and my son were all bullied as kids. My dad was called tubby; I, with my huge overbite was called “bucky”; and my son, with his vivid imagination was called names I refuse to type. So I resonate with these voices.

You’ve heard my perspective on this before in my article, The Voice of the Bullied, and many of you have heard my son share his story. Here’s another story, using poetry and animation, that is going viral on YouTube. I found it Continue reading “Sticks and Stones Contest” »

The Amazing Spiderman

Posted on: 07/5/12 3:01 AM | by Jonathan McKee

My son Alec went to see “The Amazing Spiderman” on opening day with his friends. Alec, a true Spidey fan, has been eagerly awaiting this release and was ecstatic to finally see this. So I asked him to give us his two cents on the film. Alec not only provides a fun teenage insight, but he also gives a glimpse from the perspective of someone who was bullied as a younger teen. Here’s his take:

“The Amazing Spiderman”

It was all I could do to keep from peeing myself when I was walking into the theater to see The Amazing Spiderman. I was so exited to see one of my childhood idols being portrayed in what I was sure to be an accurate representation of who he really is– a wise-cracking high-school nerd who was gifted with fantastic powers that allowed him to stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. For some reason, as a small social outcast, this idea was very appealing to me.

From the get-go my eyes were glued to the screen and my attention was firmly locked on the unfolding plot in the young life of Peter. The humor in the movie was Continue reading “The Amazing Spiderman” »

Three Kids in a Van

Posted on: 04/26/12 5:11 PM | by Jonathan McKee

It’s always interesting to see what youth workers do with “travel time” on trips. I’ve seen ministries be very proactive about using a bus ride to build relationships with kids, one kid at a time. I’ve seen other ministries that haven’t even thought about it.

A few weeks ago “Deborah” found herself driving a van on a high school missions project for a week during spring break. Deborah is very gregarious and not afraid to ask kids about their faith. Every time teenagers found themselves riding shotgun next to Deborah, she asked, “So, tell me your faith story.”

Deborah had some great conversations with students during the week, but pretty soon word got around that “shotgun” next to Deborah meant “talking about Jesus.” As it turned out, by the end of the week, most of the students found seats in other vans, leaving just three random teenagers remaining: an awkward freshman boy, a popular cheerleader in her senior year, and a quiet recluse who was rarely seen without her headphones.

The freshman boy sat up front and within five minutes Deborah asked, “Tell me your faith story.”

The boy began to share a little about his life. It wasn’t long before he was talking about the way others teased him and the bullying he had been experiencing already during his freshman year. Choked up, he shared some of the specifics of the cruelties that were daily occurrences for this young man.

Wiping a tear from his cheek he confessed, “I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I wish I just had one friend.”

Deborah looked in the rear view mirror. The girl in the headphones was looking out the window, apparently killing her ears with loud music. The cheerleader, however, was noticeably listening to every word, dabbing her eyes with Kleenex, trying to keep her mascara from running.

The cheerleader spoke up. “Me too.”

The boy up front was startled by her voice. He didn’t even realize she was listening. “What?”

“I feel the exact same way,” she continued. “Every day. I’m surrounded by a bunch of fakes. They’re empty, and so am I. I’ve never felt so alone. I hate my life.”

The girl in the headphones grabbed a pillow from the back seat and began to fluff it up on the empty seat next to her. “Me too,” she quickly interjected, then turned over, lay on the pillow and closed her eyes.

Three completely different teenagers from three completely different social circles, all connecting for a brief moment when given a chance to share their story. A true “Breakfast Club” moment.

I love hearing stories from youth workers like this. It gives us a glimpse into the crack into the armor of today’s teenagers. It provides a peek at what Jesus’ ministry probably looked like, just hanging out with the lost.

What about you?

Are you putting yourselves in situations where kids can talk freely with you?

Are you asking questions that get teenagers talking?

Do you listen instead of lecturing?

Video of Us Tackling Bullying

Posted on: 02/15/11 5:33 PM | by Jonathan McKee

10 days ago my son Alec and I tackled the subject of bullying, speaking to a group of 450 kids. I guess that’s better than tackling an actual bully! Believe me… I’ve been tempted.

I promised you to give you a glimpse of that talk, so we just posted a video of part of it on our web site here.

If you’d like to hear the entire talk, you can catch the audio of it HERE in a special episode of our A LIL BIT podcast.